"I'm even starting to wish that I'd finished a legal vocation
My life would be dull but at least I could go on vacation"

-Allo Darlin', "Silver Dollars"

It's so, so smart for this show to keep Asumu and Hibiki apart.

You'd think it'd go the other way, right? We just got the big conclusion to the premiere story. Asumu sees Hibiki defeat the monster. Hibiki sees Asumu see him defeat the monster. It's the start of a bold new friendship, one that'll define the series--

Except, no. Hibiki splits for his next gig, and Asumu heads home to get ready for his exams. It's not the start of anything, it's just some weird thing that happened over a weekend. Everyone gets on with their lives.

Except, no. Asumu can't stop dreaming over this bizarre world of heroes and monsters that he's maybe half-glimpsed. Hibiki can't stop wondering if this kid was put in his path for a reason. They both try and get back to their routines, but they can't stop wondering if something needs to change.

It's a really solid episode, if only in how much it drills into the reality of Asumu and Hibiki's day-to-day. Asumu is working hard to get into Jounan, but he keeps dreaming of the forests and adventures of Hibiki. His friends are executing on their plans, preparing for their futures, but Asumu's future has never seemed more in flux. All of the stresses of studying and exam prep feel like a distraction to him now, something that used to be important before he saw a wider, weirder world. Why do all of that hard work when he could be out adventuring like Hibiki?

Cut to the dull (if tranquil!) reality of being Hibiki: long drives to the middle of nowhere, endless data gathering, monotonous surveillance, and you can't even drink your tea in peace. It's nice to have that process juxtaposed against Asumu's daydreaming, if only to show that every job has dull parts. It's not like you can save the world by sitting in a basement reading about historical figures, or by eating donuts all day. Fighting monsters doesn't happen by accident!*

(*excluding basically every other Kamen Rider show. Don't tell Hibiki that he could just be blundering into these things by jumping in from out of frame!)

The actual monster fight... once again, not really my favorite part? I still don't feel like I've gotten a great look at the Hibiki suit, and it's the third goddamn episode. I've seen the Figure-Rise kit, and it seems like a neat design! Maybe show it off just a little? The fight, it's brief but fun but brief. Hibiki immolates Monkey 1 pretty quick, and grows claws to gut Monkey 2. (That moment when streams of goo shoot out of the stabbed Monkey 2! Oh man! Seems pretty extreme for a kids show!) After that, it's time for the baby Makamou to get upsized for the second part of the story.

It's... I mean, I know these shows have a formula, but did I not just see these same beats in the last two episodes? This is one of the things that ended up bugging me about Kuuga, and I can already see it rearing its head here. The monsters having the same plan, the same strategy every story, it's so dull to me. Like, I'm sure there's an in-story reason why the Monkey Makamou have to do things the same way the Spider Makamou did. The Grongi had their structure for a reason on Kuuga, too. But, man, it gets me so disinterested in the superhero/monster beats of the story. Especially when the cool parts of the monsters from the last story (there are two of them and they switched voices) gets brought back up again. I don't... I need some variety to these monster plots, or it's going to be very easy for me to start tuning them out.

Luckily, the monster plot (or the specific monster appearances) accounts for maybe three minutes of this episode. The rest of it is a very charming thread about Asumu maybe finding a new dream and maybe having that door close on him (the look on his face when he thinks Hibiki doesn't like him!); and a very funny story about Hibiki and Kasumi having jaw-droppingly good comedic chemistry as they deal with Hibiki's lack of operational security and maybe try to find a monster in the woods.

It's great, all of the character stuff. Hibiki is such a natural comic presence that literally every scene with him and Kasumi (and Asumu's mom) kills. The way he dances around when he sees Asumu's mom at the rest stop, him chewing gum on a road trip, the sheepish apology he gives Kasumi when she scolds him for maybe ruining Asumu's chances to get into a good school... all great. And, shit, Kasumi! So great! Consistently calls Hibiki out on his bullshit while always being supportive, and seems to be a fun person to hang around with. The two of them have such a solid rhythm to their comedy that you'd almost forget they're only half of the episode.

The other half is spent charting Asumu's newfound desire to be a Kamen Rider (mmmaybe?), and the way his old dream seems diminished by comparison. It's not really a funny plotline, but it's still pretty goddamn charming. Asumu's a kid that's easy to root for, with an optimistic attitude that never seems too sunny, too grating. He's excited, but not excitable. I'm totally into the show spending as much time as it wants showing me what this kid wants and what he's willing to do to get it.

I wasn't expecting the show to spend another couple episodes separating Hibiki and Asumu, but I'm super glad they did. I like getting to see them on their own, doing their thing. It'll mean more when they inevitably team-up. (Which I hope is in the next couple of episodes!) That said, man, the monster part of this show really needs to step up its game. It feels weird to like everything in a superhero show except for the superhero parts!